I knew about the film version of About A Boy from 2002 well before I realized it was a book by Nick Hornby. I wasn’t particularly interested because I was in college, didn’t really like Hugh Grant and probably had no interest in a strange drama between a grown man and a young boy.
But, since I just read the book, I felt it was as good a time as any to check the film version out and see how it stacks up. I kind of wish I had seen the movie first. I had already pictured Hugh Grant as Will the older guy who looks at life in as emotionless a way as possible being thrown into an incredibly emotional situation with emotional people because he was on the cover of the version I read, but more so because of what was changed from page to screen. I understand that certain scenes need to be done away with, plots need to be simplified and some scenes need to be crammed together, but the end of this flick took a kind of turn out of left field that I wasn’t expecting. Worse for me was that it turned it into your standard romantic comedy and I just do not like that.
But, before that, I thought it was spot on. The casting seemed great with Grant nailing his part and the boy doing a pretty good job as Marcus, though I don’t think he perfectly captured the weirdness of the character in the book. On the other hand, I think actually seeing someone as weird as the book version on screen might have actually been a little off putting. He’s kind of like a kid version of Temperance Brennan from Bones, but that’s not a good look for a kid in a flick. I also thought the casting of Toni Collette as Fiona and Rachel Weisz as Rachel was spot on perfect, though the costuming department went a little overboard with Fiona’s wardrobe in my opinion. Not a lot of subtlety there.
I was definitely a little disappointed with Ellie’s truncated role in the film, though. It’s so rushed and handled in such a silly manner that I almost wish that part wasn’t even in the film, especially with the ridiculous way the film went in the end (I’ll get there). Instead of being both the person who makes Marcus feel a little bit more normal (or more accurately accepted and less hated) and also the person who shows him that certain personality traits, while seemingly great, don’t always work in the real world, Ellie just looks angry and gets other people to like Marcus by default. I know that’s a nicer way to go with the story (other kids seem to respect him just because he hangs with her, she’s no longer the dangerous freak of the book which is a little disappointing).
But here’s the real problem with the film: they completely botch the ending. Instead of Marcus and Ellie going on a disastrous train ride the results in everyone’s parents and Will in the same room arguing about things, Marcus decides that singing in the school’s talent show will make his mom feel better. That’s such a foolish, childish notion and completely disregards the hard truths of adulthood and the real world that the Marcus of the book learned throughout his journey. Book Marcus would have laughed at the idea of singing in a talent show doing anything for his mum, but this one who has learned nothing from Will apparently about flying below the radar decides to get up on stage and sing “Killing Me Softly.”
For his part, Will’s journey is essentially the same in the book as in the film, but instead of the amazing conversation where he tells Rachel he was lying to her to keep her interested in which she admits she would have stopped talking to him had he not let her infer that he had a son and moving on from there, they break up and he winds up winning her back by showing up at the talent show and playing guitar for Marcus while he bombs on stage during “Killing Me Softly.” It just felt so tacked on and weird and too much like another British film I love, Love, Actually.
It’s interesting because the film version of High Fidelity has an added-on ending element in the form of Rob finding and producing the band, but that all still fits in with the themes and elements already inherent in the story. I feel like the changes made to make About A Boy into a movie undercut some of those from the book and that’s disappointing because I liked the novel so darn much and I’d like to think that audiences could have handled a more honest story.